IN CONVERSATION WITH CALLINA LIANG
Callina Liang is a rising star with a bright future ahead. She will be seen in the leading role of Mei in ‘Tell Me Everything’, a provocative new teen drama created by Mark O’Sullivan, which premieres today on 8th December. It explores what it’s like to be coming of age in the 2020s, dealing with issues of anxiety and depression. ‘Tell me Everything’ is one of a handful of exclusive shows available on ITV’s upcoming streaming platform ITVX and it will also mark ITV2’s first drama launch in 10 years.
Callina, you’ll be starring in your first TV role as one of the main stars in ITV’s provocative series ‘Tell Me Everything’. How does it feel having just filmed your first TV project?
Very exciting. I just can’t wait for the show to be out and for people to watch it and enjoy what me and this amazing team have made together.
‘Tell Me Everything’ follows Johnny, a 16-year old struggling with mental health and the stresses of mental health for today’s teens created by the omnipresence of technology and social media, whilst they are still searching for their own identity, exploring sexuality and experimenting with relationships, drink, drugs and sex. What was the most challenging part of filming this series, with its very relevant topics?
It always is a challenge to be able to portray very sensitive topics, such as mental health and sexuality and drugs and the effects that social media has on these young people. It’s always a challenge to portray all of those issues in a very raw and grounded way and not glamorizing it. So as a team, we were able to always share our thoughts and work collaboratively with the writer and the director to really shine light on these issues and speak the truth. And I think the show in the end did that very well and it was a very nice and good working progress together to work towards that final goal. Also, another reason why I’m so eager for it to come out and for people to watch it is because for young people it’s a case of watching it and feeling like you’re not the only one going through things like that. I feel like the issues that teenagers go through now is very different to teenagers back then. You know, social media has really set this high expectations of how you should be living and how you should be portraying yourself. And it’s all just fake. And I think the show showing what people put on social media versus how they are really at home and what they really feel, that’s the good contrast that I’m really excited for, because it’s real and raw.
Did you have to go throgh any special preparations for this role, to deal with all these topics that you had to portray on screen?
There were definitely a lot of preparations that went into all the characters, and very differently because every single character went through different sets of problems. If we had intimacy scenes or scenes that were quite intense physically, there was always an intimacy coordinator on board. We had intimacy workshops prior to filming. So we were all ready and we knew what to expect. Everything was dealt in a very good and sensitive way. And my character also did a bunch of stunts and stuff like that. So that was fun and obviously really safe. And other than that, there was just a lot of talks on with the writer to really find out the real issues of what the character’s going through, how I can perhaps relate to the issues and how I can portray those issues in the most realistic way. I think a lot of the times with me and Mei, and that actually surprised me, was that we went through a lot of the same things growing up. So it was quite nice to also have that similarity with her.
How does it look like working with an intimacy coach and someone to lead you through everything how to portray this on set?
It was weird, I have to say. It was my first time and it was definitely strange , but I think after you find out what’s coming, it is what it is. If you have to film simulated sex, before you go into the take, she has to count you and it’s like 5, 6, 7, 8 and it feels like a dance almost. So everything’s choreographed and if anything, I think that made me and the other actors feel more safe and grounded because we know that it’s a routine that we’ve choreographed together and nothing’s gonna go different on different takes. But it was definitely a bit of a shock in the beginning cause I didn’t know what to expect and it was very out of the comfort zone for me.
Do you have maybe anything to add to what we primarily discussed about social media and its impact on young people and their mental health particularly?
I mean, there are so many benefits to social media. It’s connected the world in a way that it’s never been connected before. But I think, the downsides to it are pretty obvious. And now that mental health is more widely spoken about as well, which it should be, social media definitely has a big impact on that. And for young people growing up, they’re seeing something on social media and they think that if you’re going through a tough time, you are just in a dark place or if you’re going through a good time, you are just in a good place. But sometimes you feel both. You can be going through a really hard time and you go out and have fun with your friends and you post that one story of you looking like you’re having fun and you go home and you feel completely alone and isolated and you’re back with your thoughts. But people only see what you post on social media.
And the show shines light on that real side of social media, of what you see and what the person is genuinely feeling. So I think that is something that young people can see and relate to and realize that they don’t have to grow up in a certain way and that feeling lost is normal. And I think it’s also really nice that the show has six main characters and all six of us go through a very different set of issues, so I feel like viewers will find a person that they can relate to, which is really nice.
How do you personally, as a young woman in this industry and a young woman surrounded by social media, take care of your own mental health?
I practice a lot of mindfulness, so I read a lot of mindful books, I meditate and breathing is a big part of it all. But I think for me, it’s just having that really distinctive line in my head as to this is how I’m living my life and social media and using my phone should just add on to what I want to do in my life and it should not take over my life. There are often times I do take breaks from social media and it is really nice to kind of cleanse yourself away from all the voices and stuff like that. I just remove myself and I think of it as something that’s far and if I need it for something, it’s there, but it’s not always necessary.
Prior to acting, you were no stranger to the stage, as you’ve taken on roles in various stage productions. What is the most exciting thing about being on stage and what the most exciting about being on set, filming?
They’re very different to each other and very exciting in different ways. The best thing that I loved about being on stage was that I was able to kind of run through an entire play and live as the character, realistically and spontaneously reacting for like an hour and a half, two hours, however long the play is and be just completely involved and immersed in the character’s world and the situations that they’re going through. And then at the end, taking that bow and then looking at the audience and seeing them and it’s like I was just in that world and then now I’ve stepped out. It’s almost like I’m traveling to two different places at different times. It always felt so cool. I definitely still love the stage very much.
But I think one thing I love about the camera too is that you’re able to film these incredible stories and scenes that sometimes it’s just impossible to show on stage and live. And I think it just takes storytelling and acting to a whole different level and you’re able to have all of these cool camera angles because not only is storytelling the actor and what the actor’s saying, but it’s also the camera, how it’s plays, where it’s filming, how the scenes are cut and edited. So I think that also makes cameras super exciting. I love both so much.
You’ve attended acting classes and extended courses both in New York and Toronto. What would you describe as the most valuable lesson that you’ve learned through acting classes?
I think the most valuable lessons I’ve learned is to stay true to yourself, because to act and experience realistically and spontaneously is to live a life that is exciting and have all these experiences that you can pull from, to put into different characters that you are playing. And I think it’s just taught me that no matter what experience I go through in life as myself, as a person, it’s always going to add onto my acting more because I will have more experiences to pull from and it always kind of gives me a lighter view on tough times. Cause the more you go through, the better of an actor you become. And that’s also another one of the things I believe in, that as an actor you can never stop learning, you can never be the best, you can always be better cause you can always experience more.
I went to Stella Adler in New York and I remember one of my teachers, he was so set on us being truthful and honest to ourselves so that we could really learn the raw real selves that we are and so we can pull from that to play these characters truthfully and realistically. And I think you don’t realize how much, as a human being, you really lie to yourself. And that’s also taught me to live more truthfully and more in the moment and I’m forever grateful for that.
You’ve also trained ballet, sing the soprano and have trained martial arts (Silat and Wushu) for the past few years. What are some of your other passions?
I did train martial arts for three years and I absolutely loved doing that. We had to make up all these like fight routines and it was so cool. I think it’s always one of my biggest dreams to be in an action film or TV show and to be able to do cool stuff like that. And yeah, ballet as well. I started training ballet when I was three years old and then I stopped and then went back into it when I was 18. And it’s a very hard thing to learn, so I have the utmost respect for everyone who is a professional ballet dancer. But I think right now, one of my biggest passions other than acting is I love to read. I read a lot. I have over like 60 books in my home.
Callina, you were born in Canada, but also lived in Australia, Singapore and now also London. What are some of your favorite memories from some of these places?
In Australia, my favorite memory I think it’s when me and my dad just went to this fish and chip shop by this beach and we just had one of the best times. I remember it was a really cold winter day and I was freezing and my dad was like “Oh, I know how to warm you up”. And then he started chasing me and playing tag with me and then we just started running around for ages and it’s like one of the happiest memories I have. And I remember after that I was sweating and he was like “See, now you’re hot”.
And in London, one of the best memories is probably filming the show. I filmed the show for five months, so it’s like the longest thing I’ve spent doing in London.
From living and working around the world, you came to love languages. You’re actually fluent in Mandarin. Why would you describe this language as so special and unique? Was it a hard language to learn?
It is very difficult. And I’m even struggling to say some words now, like trying to remember some difficult vocabs. Mandarin is a very complex and intricate and interesting language. And they have so many ways of expressing themselves. They have these phrases that they use, which is only four characters each, and if you say it in different ways, it means different things and it’s completely impossible to translate directly. I think they have a very beautiful way of communicating and I’m grateful to be able to understand and see that, because it’s just a shame that when it gets translated, it loses that. And they also have these great poems, which in school they actually make you memorize. It’s just a beautiful language.
In your next endeavour, you will appear in a still confidential series for Apple and in an upcoming Animation series. What are you most excited about for the future of your career?
I’m just honestly excited to work with more creatives and people who are passionate for the craft as I am myself. And to just meet more people and create more art together. I think it’s so amazing that me and another actor could play the same character in such different ways. I feel like with acting you can see everyone’s walks of life in the way that they portray a character. And to be able to work in this industry and with other creatives, I’m just so grateful and so excited to do more of absolutely everything and experience more. I don’t really care how big or small it is, I’m just really excited to create.
To end this lovely chat, tell us what can we expect from ‘Tell Me Everything’, without giving us any spoilers.
Well, you can expect a lot of laughs and a lot of sad dark moments and drama and love and just see these six teenagers growing up in Welling Garden City. It’s very uniquely British and it’s very real, very raw, grounded and rough. Everything that a teen drama should be, ‘Tell Me Everything’ will give you.
interview JANA LETONJA
talent CALLINA LIANG @callina.liang
photographer PIP @bypip
stylist ABIGAIL WHITE @abigailrosewhite
hair JOE KELLY @joekellz
makeup CELENA HANCOCK @celena_hancock